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How Sleep Affects Your Gut Health

Getting enough sleep is one of the best ways you can improve your health. Sticking to a sleep schedule and aiming for around 7-9 hours sleep at night is more than just a health fad, it is crucial for your overall health, and it seems important for our gut as well.

Sleep is an essential process for rest and repair for our physical health, but also for our mental and emotional health. During sleep, our brain processes the information from the day. Sleep is also important for immune health which can help fight infection.

Could your gut bacteria be keeping you up?

New evidence suggests that the gut microbiome can influence sleep quality. The gut microbiome is the composition of bacteria, fungi, and other organisms that live in the gut.

The gut-brain axis

The gut and the brain are connected by the vagus nerve, which means that communication can occur both ways. The microbes in the gut can influence the communication between the gut and the brain via the vagus nerve, sometimes in a negative way.

Feelings of hunger or emotions such as stress are communicated between the gut and the brain. The vagus nerve helps to regulate normal digestive processes, but stress, anxiety, and emotional distress inhibit the vagus nerve, impairing digestion.

At night the gut also experiences a cleansing wave known as the migrating motor complex. This cleansing wave is very important to clean out the digestive tract, removing debris such as food remnants. In fact, this cleansing wave is believed to be a contributing factor in some people with IBS, especially those with small intestine bacterial overgrowth.

Hormones

But research has shown that the microbes in our gut can alter these signals, they can increase or decrease hormones that can alter our mood - including how stressed we feel.1 The microbiome can affect our sleep by altering hormones such as serotonin which is a key chemical that influences our mood.2 Serotonin is converted into melatonin, which increases at night and helps with sleep onset and maintenance. Gut microbes can also alter levels of GABA which also plays an important role in sleep.1

Immune system

The gut is home to a large proportion of the immune system. When the body experiences long-term issues such as an overgrowth of bad bacteria, our gut microbiome can become imbalanced and cause inflammation that can spread throughout the body.3 Increased inflammation is seen in conditions such as sleep apnea and reflux, which are both conditions that can interrupt sleep.3,4

The bottom line

The gut microbiome and the gut-brain axis not only influence digestion, but it also regulates sleep and your mental state.

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